Lately, I've been feeling a little guilty about all the spring-time pictures I've been posting. I know it's still the dead of winter in a lot of parts of the country. You can almost hear folks in the East Coast and the Midwest, audibly groan at the sight of yet another image of a blossoming tree, or plant pushing our of the ground. It continues to be an epic winter in many parts of the US, with temperatures that rival those of my childhood winters in the North. I'm sure if it's not the norm, it's that much harder to bear.
All aspirations to dig into the earth and go wild-crafting and frolicking aside, an early spring is not good for us either. Our farmer friends tell us that pests are out in record numbers, having survived the one light frost we had, and gone forth and multiplied. There's not a lot of snow in the mountains, which will seriously affect our states water supply. Of course, there is natural variation in weather, and really we only have a hundred year's worth of records in a lot of places, but even in the context that any year's weather can be somewhat unpredictable, these days it's safe to assume that man-made-climate-change has something to do with it.
It's not that the nice weather, or the early blossoms and nettles aren't wonderful, or even the predictions of what it all might mean for this coming growing season, but rather the unease one feels when something isn't right. I remember feeling it for the first time in my mid-twenties when I experienced my first snowless Christmas back home. Watching the ocean at Helsinki harbor, resolutely unfrozen, with just a thin film of sea-ice attempting the form by the shoreline, I felt like the whole world was suddenly altered. It was an unprecedented event in my lifetime, but what's more startling, is that since then it has become part of the norm. Whereas before you could be certain that the sea-ice was going to form, now it's different each winter.
I don't have the same kind of frame of reference here, having only lived in the Pacific Northwest for six years. However, the feeling is the same. That there's something new afoot, that some balance has been shifted. It's a wholly uncomfortable feeling. It reminds me a little bit of those childhood fears of something living under your bed, or in your closet at night. You're pretty sure it's real, but your parents keep telling you it's not. You want to believe them, but deep down you're pretty sure something's coming to devour you. Well, except that in this case, one of your parents is telling you it's not real and the other one is telling you that it's enormous and it will come soon.
One way I try to deal with my uneasy feeling and my lack of knowledge about local climate and patterns, is keeping a nature journal. Simply writing down when certain seasonal landmark events happen each year makes me feel like I'm forming a pattern of my own. It's limited sure, but evidence nonetheless. I wish I could say I keep it neatly in a separate little book, but honestly, I just write down my observations of plants emerging, birds returning, mammals calving and lambing in my regular journal. A lot of my journal is observations of birds I see daily, anyway, so the migrants fit neatly into it. Sadly, I'm not methodical about it either, but it does offer me some perspective. Based on the four or so years I've been doing this the flowering of our trees is about a month early, except for one exceptionally warm february when the plum trees also blossomed in the end of february and then a cold front killed all the blooms.
That journal, leafing through it, gives me a sense of calm. Yes, I've picked nettles this early before. But not, the garden has not done this well for me through the winter in the past years, in any of the locations I've had it. Can I draw conclusions from these small observations? Absolutely not, but I feel good about making sure I'm not missing any great changes. I think it was Derrick Jensen that said that it was our duty was to bear witness in environmental changes and in bearing witness it would become impossible for us to be not feel like we had to act. It's a good first step, engaging with the seasons, seeing causalities and simply delighting in the first daffodil and the first turkey vulture. We can only grow to love our surroundings, our homes, our bio-regions more, the better we know them.
Do you keep a journal? Is your weather whacky right now?